By its very nature, improvisational theatre can be hit and miss. On opening night, the Arts Club Theatre Company’s presentation of Blind Date, currently on stage at Vancouver’s BMO Theatre Centre, was a little of both.
The set-up for Blind Date is relatively simple. Before the show, Mimi (on opening night performed by Tess Degenstein, who will share the role with Lili Beaudoin and Ali Froggatt during the show’s run) mingles with theatre-goers in the lobby. From those she speaks with outside, she will eventually choose the man invited on stage to be her blind date for the evening.
On opening night Mimi/Degenstein chose Ben, a thirty-something newlywed who works in construction management. Discovering Ben was offered up to Mimi by his wife Meghan, he is a willing, albeit nervous participant. The alcohol Ben drinks on stage obviously helps to loosen him up as the show progresses, even as it became inconvenient late in the show when he had to be excused to use the washroom.
Guiding Ben through their blind date, the pair begin by talking innocently about their lives. Ben asks Mimi questions, she asks the bulk. As the show continues the questions become a little more probing, and without wanting to give away some of the fun, the stakes also become bigger (even if they are all just a little hypothetical).
Degenstein does have some difficulties both reining Ben in, and in helping him to overcome his shyness. And while Degenstein rarely loses full control, there are moments when things de-railed on opening night. Although, these moments are part-and-parcel of a show that relies so heavily on improvisation and in working with an audience member, it does slow things down. As a result, about the mid-point, the show begins to drag. Fortunately, after Ben’s pee break the action expands substantially to a very funny conclusion.
Helping to break things up to having only Mimi and her date on stage for the duration is the introduction of three additional characters played by Beaudoin, Froggatt and Jeff Gladstone. While this definitely helps to mix things up, they do feel somewhat more prescribed than the improvised feel of rest of this show. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does feel different.
Blind Date is also very funny, even when you consider most of the comedy comes from the tension created by having an audience member on stage. Ben was not only a willing foil to Degenstein, he managed to get in a few of his own funny (and unscripted) lines. Degenstein is skilled in the callback, where she will reference something Ben has revealed previously.
In a recent interview with the Vancouver Sun, Degenstein explains the red nose she wears through the show as a reminder to the audience that is “all just about play and theatre”. Given the highly theatrical nature of this date though, one must wonder how necessary it really is.
As each show features a new date plucked from the audience, the audience experience will change with each performance. And with two other actors also performing as Mimi, the permutations seem endless.
Blind Date, a Spontaneous Theatre creation by Rebecca Northan. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at the BMO Theatre Centre (162 W 1st Ave, Vancouver) until December 30. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.